Tajiks Struggle to Cope With Flood Damage

Government lacks resources to handle multiple disasters.

Tajiks Struggle to Cope With Flood Damage

Government lacks resources to handle multiple disasters.

The devastation left by floods, mudslides and landslides that hit Tajikistan this spring has underscored the inability of the country’s disaster response services to cope with large-scale emergencies.

The Tajik authorities say at least 20 people died, half of them children, while some 200 homes were completely destroyed and many more were badly damaged by rushing water, mud and debris following torrential rain.

Roads, bridges and power lines were swept away, thousands of farm animals drowned, and hospitals, schools and electricity substations also suffered damage.

Large areas of farmland only recently sown with crops – including cotton, a key export commodity for Tajikistan – were swamped and will have to be replanted.

Various parts of the country were affected, with the worst disruption in Panj district close to the southern border with Afghanistan and Khuroson in the southwest, the latter suffering two mudslides, one on April 21-22 and then another on May14.

The second of these mudflows caused a reservoir located on higher ground to overflow, swamping four villages.

Khurshed, a resident of the village of Uyali, said rain and hail were followed by a great rumbling sound.

“When we went out, I saw a huge mudflow moving towards us,” he told IWPR. “People were coming out of their houses screaming.”

Within half an hour, the settlement was covered in a thick layer of mud. With the help of some neighbours, Khurshid used planks of wood to reach his wife who was stuck in mud up to her waist, and rescued her.

“It’s impossible to recount what happened in words. Anyone who didn’t see it with their own eyes cannot imagine what it was like,” he said.

Around 1,900 people in Khuroson and Panj were displaced, and tent camps were set up to house them, two in the former district and one in the latter.

Nuriddin Sharipov, a pensioner from Uyali now housed in one of the camps with his large family, said, “This year I finally managed to complete the house I started building in the Nineties. Now it’s gone, and all my efforts were for nothing.”

After the Tajik government appealed for assistance, the United Nations said on June 1 that 1.3 million US dollars was needed urgently to help some 15,000 people, in particular to lay on water and sanitation for the 3,000 living in camps.

The total cost is estimated at 100 million dollars, around four times the damage caused by flooding and mudslides last year.

“The situation is exacerbated by difficult access to some disaster areas,” Tajikistan’s representative at the UN Sirojiddin Aslov was reported as saying by UN Radio on May 19. “There is an acute shortage of building materials, metal structures, fuel and portable generators.”

Aslov said his government was doing what it could, but the scale of the damage made it impossible for Tajikistan to cope on its own.

A duty doctor at a camp in Khuroson, Bakhtior Karimov, said life there was particularly tough for women with newborn babies.

“The damp has a bad effect on health, causing acute respiratory illnesses, and there are some cases of dysentery,” he added

While relief assistance is being channelled through the Rapid Emergency Assessment and Coordination Team, which brings government and UN agencies together with the Red Crescent and other bodies, it is Tajikistan’s Committee for Emergency Situations and Civil Defence that is in direct charge of disaster relief operations on the ground.

Government agencies have come in for some criticism both for their response and for failing to make adequate preparations for what is an annual occurrence.

The emergencies committee’s chief of staff for the southern Khatlon region, Abdusattor Khushvakhtov, acknowledges that it lacks the resources to deal with so many crises at the same time.

“We don’t have cars, let alone bulldozers, to reach the places where these incidents happened, and we have no equipment to provide people with basic assistance,” he told IWPR.

A former employee of the committee who gave his first name as Ibodullo said it made little difference whether an administrative region had a relatively well-equipped emergencies committee department or not.

“Even when there is equipment on hand, there isn’t much of it and even then it isn’t used for its proper purpose,” he said, adding that staffing was also a major problem – the pay was poor and local offices had to hire unqualified personnel to fill the gap.

Dustmurod Zabirov, an official with the emergencies committee, is optimistic that things will get better as the government has plans to reform the agency by 2012, with the creation of a unified system for preventing and responding to natural disasters.

Ibodullo was sceptical, saying, “The things envisaged in this [reform] programme will require substantial funding, which… the government does not have. I fear that this programme will exist only on paper.”

As emergencies official Khushvakhtov pointed out, some of the areas affected by mudslides have long been identified as at risk.

“Local people were warned of the dangers but they found it difficult to leave the places where they had settled and lived for a number of years,” he said.

In one of the areas identified as unsound, Uyali, local residents counter that if irrigation canals and had been maintained properly, the flow of mud and water would have been contained and diverted.

“These collectors [auxiliary canals] used to be cleaned on annual basis and mudflows used to go past without destroying anything,” said a local resident who did not want to give his name.

Nafisa Pisaredjeva is an IWPR-trained journalist in Dushanbe. Sayrahmon Nazriev is a correspondent for the Asia Plus news agency in Qurghonteppa.

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